On the morning after election night, Hansard reporters fuel up on coffee and get down to the task of learning all the new MPs. This time it’s a big job, with 140 brand new faces plus 15 former Members who did not serve in the 2017-19 Parliament. As well as using our online course to commit names and faces to memory, it’s helpful for us to see new MPs in the flesh because people often look a bit different from their photograph—with new haircuts or glasses, perhaps an unexpected beard. And hearing voices is obviously even better. There are a couple of ways in which Hansard staff get to see new Members in three-dimensional form before we start reporting their speeches.
Buddy programme and New Members’ Reception Area
Keith Brown, Committee Sub-Editor
Did you know that each MP arriving in Westminster for the first time is welcomed by a “buddy” from the House of Commons Service? Their role is to guide new MPs through the induction process and offer them support during their first few days in the job. Whether it’s helping them navigate the sprawling parliamentary estate, advising on office IT provision, or explaining parliamentary procedure and custom, the buddies are there to ensure that new MPs can hit the ground running.
I’m one of several Hansard colleagues who have been working as buddies. On the Monday after the election (at 6 o’clock in the morning!) I was standing at the entrance to Portcullis House, eagerly waiting to greet my new MP—buddies are paired with MPs according to a taxi rank system, rather than assigned in advance. Thanks to some Member recognition work over the weekend, I recognised my MP right away and greeted her by name.
I had been a buddy once before, after the 2017 election, so I had a good idea of what the role can entail. It is highly varied, and the type of support you provide will depend on the needs and interests of your MP. All buddies undertook a comprehensive training programme in the weeks ahead of the election, to ensure that we have all the information we might need to support our MP effectively.
Having introduced myself and explained my role—over a much-needed coffee, given the early hour—my first task was to guide my new MP through the New Members’ Reception Area. (This was also another good opportunity to spot a few more new MPs and see whether my Member recognition work had really paid off…) I took her to receive her security pass and a quick introduction to security across the estate. This was followed by a one-on-one briefing with staff from the Parliamentary Digital Service, who provided a laptop, iPad and email address, so that she could get started on parliamentary business right away. We registered with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and colleagues from the Members’ Security Support Service were on hand to advise on security matters. Then we were off for a special tour of the building with the Doorkeepers, with a focus on the Commons Chamber.
Being a buddy for a new MP is incredibly rewarding. In Hansard we learn a good deal about MPs’ political views and constituency interests, but we rarely see how their offices work or how they interact with the media, for instance. Buddying provides a valuable insight into that much broader role. I’m looking forward to providing ongoing support to my new MP and her staff in the coming weeks of the new Parliament.
Members taking the oath
James Mayne, Senior Reporter
Assuming that the House elects a Speaker on the first day of a new Parliament, the first item on the agenda at the start of the second day will be for the Commons to go to the Lords to hear the Royal Approbation—the process by which the monarch approves the Speaker’s appointment—and then the swearing-in process begins, with the Speaker going first. This time around, that has all happened on the first day, allowing time for all MPs to be sworn in before the Queen’s Speech, scheduled on the third day of the new Parliament. MPs have a choice of either swearing an oath or making a solemn affirmation of allegiance to the Crown. Affirmation is the non-religious version, and Members who wish to swear an oath can choose which holy book they wish to use. Oaths or affirmations are usually initially made in English, but can be repeated in another language if the Member so wishes (this Parliament has included oaths in Doric, Cornish and Urdu, among many other languages). Members need to have sworn in to be able to take their salary, sit in the Chamber, speak in debates and vote.
A few full days before the State Opening of Parliament will be allotted for Members to swear in. It is customary for the Father of the House—the Member with the longest continuous service—to go first, followed by the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, the shadow Cabinet, other Privy Counsellors, and then MPs by date of first election. The whole process, which is televised, provides most Hansard reporters with a valuable first in-the-flesh glance at the Members of the new Parliament. For example, 227 of the Members elected at the 2010 general election had never previously been MPs, which is a lot of new faces to learn! Although the procession of Members swearing in is largely a formal occasion, the Speaker may interrupt proceedings to update Members on the arrangements for later sessions or future days, so it is important for reporters to maintain a presence in the Chamber. After a Member has sworn in, they specify their preferred name to a Clerk behind the Speaker’s Chair – this is important for Hansard (and the Annunciators) as we need to know how new Members prefer their name to appear both in our Official Report and on the monitors around the parliamentary estate.
Business as usual
After the swearing-in process and State Opening of Parliament, life returns more or less to “normal” for Hansard, although reporters are always especially eager to hear new Members’ first speeches, which give us a good idea of their speaking style and the subjects they are keen to debate. But in the aftermath of this general election, we were particularly fortunate. After two days of debate in the Commons, the House rose for Christmas, giving Hansard reporters a good, long opportunity to really make sure we knew those new faces. And to eat, drink and be merry, of course (don’t worry, we do know how to have fun…)